Cynthia Carlson, American (1942 - )

Cynthia Carlson

Cynthia Carlson’s work has a pervasive, unbridled energy, like the artist herself. Most of her paintings, drawings and installations (with some exceptions; the Monument and Memento Mori Series, and Vietnam: Sorry About That project), seem hyperactive and jumpy - they just won’t sit still. Coming from Chicago, a city steeped in its own rich and singular artistic tradition, she was influenced in part by the artists who formed The Hairy Who, as well as by others with whom she shared what she calls “funky Surrealist tendencies”. Carlson’s work has a comedic feel – its repetitive themes are quotidian and zany. She shares these aspects of her work with the late Ree Morton, a close friend with whom she taught in Philadelphia: their lives and work were intertwined. Both artists learned early on to be self – sufficient; neither brooked elitist behavior or had time for privileged introspection, and each was unburdened by formalist dictates: they thoroughly understood them, but were free to pick and choose their stylistic preferences and mix them as they saw fit.

It has been virtually ignored that Carlson is a pioneer in the Decorative Art Movement, and in feminist artistic practice. Carlson did not set out to engage as a feminist, though she did not avoid it – her methods were simply appropriate to her temperament and suited her needs. She had been working with heavily impasto paint and was looking for a more efficient way to apply it. Carlson was one of the first artists to cover surfaces with stylized paint squiggles squeezed on with a cake decorator (as did sculptor Pat Lasch, whose father was a conditor), creating highly colored, witty, all - over patterns and dimensional units in installations in museums and galleries throughout the country. She first showed this work at Hundred Acres in Soho, in 1976. Shortly afterward Carlson fabricated a ginger bread house at Art Park, a site - specific institution on the banks of the Niagara River. Its entire surface was slathered with delicious- looking patterns and dabs that would certainly have seduced Hansel and Gretel.

And yet there was and is a rawness to Carlson’s work – it may be decorative, funny, or colorful (like her recent crazy quilt of cat toy paintings), or seem to whirl like a dervish, but it has an edge, a sense of something not altogether nice. This is especially so in her most recent body of work, based on the quills of a porcupine! While the familiar rhythm and energy are present, and we recognize the almost comic book rendering of the subject matter, the scale is so much larger than life that the paintings are threatening and put the viewer at a decided distance. It is this constant “nice/nasty, come here/move back, have fun/no don’t” conversation that disturbs and makes us look closely at this artist who continues to forge new territory as she dances to her Windy City beat.
Barbara Zucker
August, 2008

Public Collections (Selected)

Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City
Neuberger Museum of Art, S.U.N.Y., Purchase, New York
Queens Museum, Flushing, New York
Guggenheim Museum, New York City
Sailors Snug Harbor, Staten Island, New York
Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia, PA
Richmond Museum of Art, Richmond, VA
Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Philadelphia, PA
Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, IL
Allen Memorial Art Museum, Oberlin College, Oberlin, OH
Denver Art Museum, Denver, CO
Albright- Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, NY
New Orleans Museum of Art, New Orleans, LA
Milwaukee Museum of Art, Milwaukee, WI
University of Colorado Art Museum, Boulder, CO
Kemper Insurance Company
Atlantic Richfield Company
Prudential Insurance Company
Phoenix Arts Museum, Phoenix, AZ
New York City Health and Hospital Corp., New York City
Readers Digest , Inc.
Owen-Corning Fiberglass Corp., Toledo, OH
Dechert, Price & Rhoades, Inc., Philadelphia, PA
Amarada Hess Corp., Woodbridge, NJ
Best Products, Inc., Richmond, VA
Lehman Brothers, Shearson and American Express, NYC
Chase Manhattan Bank, NYC
Western Catskills Community Revitalization Council, Inc., Stamford, NY
New Museum of Contemporary Art, NYC
The Brooklyn Museum, Brooklyn, NY
The Jane Voorhees Zimmerli Art Museum, Rutgers State Univ. of New Jersey, New Brunswick, NJ
Princeton Museum of Art, Princeton, NJ
Kresge Art Museum, Michigan State University, East Lansing, MI
Polk Museum of Art, Lakeland, FL
San Antonio Art Museum, San Antonio, TX
Allentown Art Museum, Allentown, PA
Orlando Museum of Art, Orlando, FL
National Museum of Women in the Arts, Washington, D.C.
Numerous Private Collections

Solo-Exhibitions (Selected)

2011 Hudson Opera House, Hudson, NY
2000 Charles More Gallery, Philadelphia, PA
Art Resources Transfer, Inc., NYC
1999 Neuberger Museum of Art, Purchase College, SUNY, Purchase, NY
1995 Charles More Gallery, Philadelphia, PA
1993 Union League Club of Chicago, Chicago, IL
Charles More Gallery, Philadelphia, PA
1992 A.I.R. Gallery, New York City
1990 The Queens Museum, Flushing, New York, ten year survey of installations
Charles More Gallery, Philadelphia, PA
Rathbone Gallery, Russell Sage College, Albany, NY
Art Annex Gallery, Hollins College, Hollins College, Virginia
1989 Freedman Gallery, Albright College, Reading, PA, ten year survey of installations
1988 Philadelphia Art Alliance, Philadelphia, PA
Charles More Gallery, Philadelphia, PA
University Art Galleries, Wright State University, Dayton, OH
1987 McIntosh - Drysdale Gallery, Washington, D.C.
School 33 Art Center, Baltimore, Md.
1986 Gray Art Gallery, East Carolina University, Greenville, NC
1985 Hallwalls, Buffalo, NY
Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, NY
1983 Pratt Institute, School of Art & Design, Brooklyn, NY
Pam Adler Gallery, NYC
1982 Artisanspace Gallery, Fashion Institute of Technology, NYC, collaboration with Betty Woodman
University of Rhode Island Gallery, Kingston, RI
Lowe Art Museum , University of Miami, Coral Gables, FL
Milwaukee Art Museum, Milwaukee, WI, installation and survey of paintings
1981 The Southeastern Center for Contemporary Art, Winston-Salem, NC
Herron School of Art, Indiana University-Purdue University, Indianapolis, IN
Wenger Gallery, La Jolla, CA
Pam Adler Gallery, NYC
Hudson River Museum, Yonkers, NY
1980 Allen Memorial Art Museum, Oberlin College, Oberlin
1979 The Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Philadelphia, PA
Marian Locks Gallery, Philadelphia, PA
Marianne Deson Gallery, Chicago, IL
Barbara Toll Gallery, NYC
Pam Adler Gallery, NYC
1978 University of Colorado, Boulder, CO
1977 Graduate Center, City University of New York, NYC
Marianne Deson Gallery, Chicago, IL
1976 Hundred Acres Gallery, NYC
1975 Marian Locks Gallery, Philadelphia, PA
Hundred Acres Gallery, NYC
1973 Phyllis Kind Gallery, Chicago, IL
1972 Gallerie Marc, Washington, D.C.
1967 Pratt Institute, School of Art & Design, Brooklyn, NY

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